Stimulus Money To Launch Texas Health Clinic The Los Barrios Unidos Community Health Center will receive a $1.3 million grant as part of the massive federal stimulus package. The money will open the first and only community health clinic in Grand Prairie, Texas, a town near Dallas.
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Stimulus Money To Launch Texas Health Clinic

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Stimulus Money To Launch Texas Health Clinic

JACKI LYDEN, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden. Billions of stimulus dollars are starting to flow out of Washington, D.C., and as they wind their way across the country, they wash up in places like Grand Prairie, Texas.

That's a Dallas suburb with some pretty gritty neighborhoods, and it's home to a brand new community health center that's just scooped up more than $1 million from the stimulus pool. The goal, deliver more and better health care to poor people and the uninsured.

NPR's Dianna Douglas paid a visit to see what a big stimulus grant means for a small health center.

Unidentified Woman #6: Just relax your arm, a little poke here.

DIANNA DOUGLAS: Fourteen-year-old Caleb is finally getting his TD booster shots.

Mr. CALEB (Resident, Grand Prairie, Texas): It didn't really hurt. It was like an ant bite.

DOUGLAS: The school told his mom, Yolanda Potter, that he couldn't come back without them. Ms. YOLANDA POTTER: The school nurse would just ask me where was I going to take him to get his shot. And I said well, I always take him to Dallas, and she gave me the flyer for this one, and she told me to call them. We came right away.

DOUGLAS: Potter says health insurance is too expensive where she works, so she usually just pays for the doctor out-of-pocket. This clinic in Grand Prairie, Texas, isn't free for her, but it's pretty close.

Six months ago, it was an old warehouse. Now, it has small exam rooms, a blood lab, a waiting room. There's a pediatrician, a nurse and a couple of medical clerks working here.

Two years ago, the Los Barrios Unidos Community Health Center in Dallas applied for federal money to open up this clinic but was turned down. They opened it up anyway, on a smaller scale.

Then the stimulus came along, and their old application was one of the first to get funded. When CEO Leonor Márquez heard government money was coming her way, she knew she was going to have to ramp up.

Ms. LEONOR MARQUEZ (Chief Executive Officer, Los Barrios Unidos Community Health Center): We have 37 years of experience managing federal grants, and it's pretty stringent. When the government gives you money, they expect a pretty nice return on their investment.

DOUGLAS: In the case of the stimulus, return on investment means jobs created. To keep the grant, Grand Prairie is expected to create or preserve 12 jobs. They have to report back to Washington monthly on where the money is going, and they have to see at least 3,500 patients a year. In the half-year since they've opened, they've seen a small fraction of that number.

Ms. BETTY TRASK(ph) (Nurse, Los Barrios Unidos Community Health Center): I know there's a great need out there, and people are really hurting now.

DOUGLAS: Nurse Betty Trask hopes the cash infusion will do some good for the working poor in Grand Prairie, if they'll just come in.

Ms. TRASK: We can educate them. We can treat their minor illnesses. We can treat their chronic disease.

DOUGLAS: Trask works at the Grand Prairie clinic twice a week while she finishes her studies to become a family nurse practitioner. When she's done, she has a full-time job waiting for her here, courtesy of the stimulus.

Ms. TRASK: It's more lucrative to be in a hospital. They pay a whole lot more, and I did take a cut in pay to come here. I feel that I'm giving back to the community. You know, money is not everything.

DOUGLAS: So that's one job created, but getting people to work here is a tall order. CEO Leonor Marquez has already made offers to two doctors but hasn't heard back from them. She's running ads for nurses, who she says are as hard to hire as doctors.

Working in community health centers, the pay is lower, the neighborhoods are rough, and Ruby Bolden, a pediatrician at the main clinic in Dallas, says the patients themselves are a challenge.

Dr. RUBY BOLDEN (Pediatrician, Los Barrios Unidos Community Health Center): Often, poor people are not committed to keeping appointments. And until they understand that health care is important, they tend to come in crisis. Preventive care is not the norm, except for infants.

DOUGLAS: Making it that much harder to get those 3,500 patients. Still, for Dr. Bolden, getting the stimulus grant is big, bigger than all the new patients, all the paperwork, all the new staff that has to be hired.

Dr. BOLDEN: You know, there is money coming from the federal government now, which really makes me feel good because we provide a service that's really, really needed, and somebody appreciates that.

DOUGLAS: With $2 billion to give out to community health centers before May, the government will be calling a lot more places like Grand Prairie, letting them know they're getting stimulus money and all the hoops and headaches that come along with it. Dianna Douglas, NPR News.

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